Mommy Frog's Note: While Disneyland remains closed temporarily due to COVID-19, Walt Disney World has reopened! Check here for the latest information about Disney World's reopening procedures and updates on Disneyland's reopening status.
If you live in the western parts of the United States, Canada and Mexico, chances are Disneyland Resort is your main U.S. Disney destination. If you live locally or have a Disneyland annual pass, you're probably a fellow theme park expert who uses all the tips and tricks we frogs recommend to skip the lines and avoid the crowds. However, if you are planning your first trip to Walt Disney World Resort (or it’s your first trip in a really long time), you definitely need to do your research because there are some major differences in planning a vacation at the two resorts. (That’s why you are reading this blog, right?!) Disney World is HUGE compared to Disneyland, and if you do not plan ahead you may miss out on rides, dining and character experiences. Never fear, Disneyland fans, we've put together the key things you need to know before you visit Disney World!
Hop along with us as your Disney World tour guides! It's important to note that this post is focused more on "the way things typically are" vs. "how things are temporarily" with covid, although we will specify the changes. We will point you toward the resources you'll need to plan the most magical trip to Disney World.
The Disneyland Fan’s Guide to Visiting Disney World — Planning
OMG! You're going to Disney World! This is so exciting! In order to achieve that hoppy family vacation you've always dreamed about, take a little time to get familiar with Disney World well before your trip. Overall, you are going to need to start planning your trip to Disney World a lot earlier than you would a trip to Disneyland. Disney World is a very popular vacation destination! Definitely hop over to our Disney World crowd calendar to try to choose one of the least crowded times to visit.
While it’s always smart to plan your trips to Disneyland and learn as much as you can about FASTPASS, MaxPass, new rides and shows (BTW, we have Disney World Fan’s Guide to Visiting Disneyland for folks used to the East Coast parks), if you’ve been to Disneyland a few times, you know you can just show up and wing it and have a great time. This is not necessarily the case with Disney World. You have to do a little more prep work to gain maximum fun!
Whether you are new to Disney World or a seasoned visitor, you need to plan your visit in advance and make reservations for rides, shows and meals. There are some temporary changes right now that actually makes planning a Disney World vacation much easier. But in non-COVID times, there are lots of logistics to plan and things to learn, including new lingo. Park hopping means hopping into some kind of vehicle or transportation to get to another park (rather than the quick walk across the esplanade at Disneyland). Park Hopping was temporarily suspended in 2020, but it returns Jan. 1, 2021!
Currently, FastPass+ isn't being used, and the restaurant reservation window has been shortened. FastPass+ usually means figuring out which park to visit which day and your must-do rides up to two months in advance. You'll even want to plan meals at popular restaurants at least six months in advance during normal operations (but that's 60 days during the pandemic)! If you do not put in the time to plan, you just might miss out. Nobody wants that! So do some research and you’ll be in good shape to make hoppy family memories.
One bonus of the Walt Disney World Resort property is experiencing the recreational fun you can have outside of the theme parks. You can rent boats and go kayaking or fishing. Disney World has several golf courses and mini golf courses. You can even go horseback riding! Many hotel guests build in some time to relax and enjoy their resort during their vacation too ... and each of the resort hotels has a toadally unique theme, which extends to its decor, pool and dining options. You might want to venture off the property to take an airboat tour and maybe even spot some alligators or take about an hour's drive to go to the beach for some relaxation.
Budgeting Your Time
Plan to allow extra time to get to the parks, hop between parks and wait in lines. Food lines and ride lines are generally longer at Disney World. But the good news is that Mobile Order is an option for some quick-service restaurants at Disney World too! Also, be sure to check the park hours. While we generally enjoy those late night hours at Disneyland until midnight, sometimes the parks close earlier at Disney World. Seasonal events, including Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party and Disney After Hours events may lead to early park closures for non-party guests. Knowing the park closure time helps in planning your day, whether you decide you'd like to attend a special event or would rather hop to another park to make the most of your time.
Keep in mind that while EPCOT may open early, World Showcase usually opens a little later (11 a.m. or so). If you're looking to hop around the world, that may be a better day to sleep in! Don't froget to check and see about any festivals going on during your visit too — EPCOT's festivals can really enhance your EPCOT time, and generally include limited-edition food, concerts and more.
Depending on the length of your vacation, you may opt to stick to one park per day at Disney World. Explore everything that park has to offer and move on to another park the next day. Park hopping requires taking transportation to another park, and that can waste valuable time if you're limited during your visit.
Prepare to Walk and Experience Weather
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort (if that’s also on your must-see list) are much larger properties than their West Coast counterparts. Even the ride exits are much longer than the Disneyland versions. The same rides may have larger footprints too! You’ll notice the castle is bigger and the hub and lands definitely have more space to them. That also mean you’ll be getting your steps in, so wear good walking shoes.
The climate will also differ from what you are used to at Disneyland. Check the weather forecast so you’ll know what to pack, but in warmer months, be prepared for heat, humidity and rain. Rain may be a rare event at Disneyland, especially in summer. However, thunderstorms tend to be an everyday event in the summer in Orlando, but the storms move in and out very quickly and are usually in the late afternoon. Bring that umbrella and poncho, and check both the forecast and the radar to stay ahead of the rain.
Getting to Know the Walt Disney World Resort Theme Parks
Disneyland Resort sits on about 500 acres and has two parks that are literally steps away from one another. Downtown Disney is next to the parks, connecting them to the three on-site hotels, all within hopping distance. In comparison, Walt Disney World Resort covers about 30,000 acres, has four theme parks and two water parks and there is a great distance between them all! It really is a whole new world!
Disney Springs is the Disney World equivalent to Downtown Disney, but it is not attached to the theme parks. It’s a shopping and dining destination in itself. Disney Springs is much bigger than Downtown Disney, with four distinct "neighborhoods" to explore. Disney Springs is also home to the world's largest World of Disney store. If you're staying at one of the EPCOT area hotels, you're steps away from Disney's BoardWalk, which offers even more entertainment, dining and shopping options.
The Walt Disney World Resort property is sprawled out and you cannot generally walk from park to park (although you can walk between EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios). Each park is unique and offers a different experience. Don’t ask us our favorite park. We love different parts of each park and have favorite rides at each park! They are each special in their own way!
Here are the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks and water parks:
- Magic Kingdom – This park is most like Disneyland Park but on a bigger scale. This park has many of the same Disneyland classic rides. But you may find them in slightly different places and with subtle differences you fans might notice. You may be used to the approachable and quaint Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland. It’s almost overwhelming to see the towering Cinderella Castle in person. Don’t miss the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, PeopleMover (it is greatly missed at Disneyland), Country Bear Jamboree (also missed by many Disneyland fans) and the Hall of Presidents, as none of these can be found at Disneyland. Catch a show in front of the castle! That's something you don't get to experience at Disneyland.
- EPCOT - It is home to World Showcase and rides such as Test Track, Soarin’ (with a different ending), Spaceship Earth and Frozen Ever After.
- Disney's Hollywood Studios - It is home to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (almost identical to Disneyland’s version), Toy Story Land, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (we miss this one from Disney California Adventure, and the Orlando version has a surprising twist!), Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and the new Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway (which will eventually make its way to the West Coast).
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom - It is home to Pandora and the highly popular Avatar Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris. Check out the bioluminescence of Pandora at night and the lighting and projections on the Tree of Life. You get a zoo and theme park in one at Disney's Animal Kingdom!
- Disney’s Blizzard Beach water park - A snow-covered water park (seriously!), where you can take a "ski" lift to the top of the park's focal point, Mount Gushmore, for even more thrilling water attractions.
- Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park - A tropical lagoon (don't mind the odd shipwreck or debris left over from the typhoon that rolled through) that's home to the Crush 'n' Gusher tube slide, as well as lazy rivers and other water attractions. In the summer, Typhoon Lagoon also hosts H2O Glow Nights, an after-hours party featuring Toy Story pals and exclusive food and drink options.
Walt Disney World Resort Ticket Options
One difference between Disneyland and Disney World are the ticketing options. (Note: some of these options have changed for the reopening, which requires a park pass through the Disney World Reservation System to visit. Park Hopping is is available as of Jan. 1, 2021.) You may be familiar with Base tickets, which allow you to visit one park a day, or Park Hopper tickets, which allow you to visit more than one park each day. But Walt Disney World Resort also offers Park Hopper Plus tickets, which allow you to hop to the parks AND the water parks (plus some other extras, including ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, two mini golf locations and Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course.) Water parks are expected to reopen spring 2021. Take a look at all of the ticket options available to you to see which best meets your family's needs.
Walt Disney World Resort Transportation Options
There are a lot of free transportation options for getting around Disney World. The choices vary based on where you are and are trying to go. Reach for the sky with the new Disney Skyliner Transporation System. It looks like a ski resort gondola, but with adorable Disney characters from both movies and attractions decorating the cabins. The Skyliner connects hotels such as Disney’s Riviera Resort, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort and Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort with Disney’s Hollywood Studios and EPCOT.
The monorail lines access the Transportation and Ticket Center, EPCOT, Magic Kingdom and hotels such as the Polynesian, Contemporary and Grand Floridian Resorts.
By water, you can take ferries or water taxis to Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney Springs and certain hotels, including Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness.
Disney Skyliner, monorail, ferries, water taxis and buses are all toadally free to take around property. Here's the scoop on complimentary transportation available at each theme park:
Ground transportation choices include buses, which are available at every theme park and resort hotel. If want to get to your destination faster, you can always use Lyft or Uber. You can order Minnie Van service connected by Lyft (this service is temporarily unavailable) to get a Minnie-themed ride for up to six passengers. All ride share options are a separate, paid option. The Minnie Vans are actually owned and operated by Disney World, which means you'll have a cast member to chauffeur you. No matter which Disney transportation mode you use, tadpoles can snag a free, collectible transportation card — see if you can collect them all! Ask a cast member for one, and remember that each type of boat has its own card ;)
If you do drive to the theme parks and park, it will cost $25 per day for parking. You do not have to pay again if you park hop and drive to a different theme park on that same day. Disney hotel guests do not need to pay again to park at theme parks. Just remember to budget time to park, get to the park and go through security again when park hopping.
Are you staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel? If you aren’t doing much exploring outside the resort area, you do not need to rent a car. From Orlando International Airport (MCO), you can hop on Disney’s Magical Express, a complimentary motor coach service to and from the hotels! We love free! Going carless to Disney World can be a great way to save money. Rent for the day if you want to explore other areas, or take a Lyft or Uber to other destinations.
One of the biggest changes for a Disneyland fan visiting Disney World is the use of MagicBands and My Disney Experience! MagicBands are rubber bracelets with RFID technology. Among its many uses will be to scan in at the FastPass+ entrance. If you are familiar with making ride reservations on your phone through the Disneyland app and pulling out the phone or park ticket to scan in for rides when using MaxPass/FASTPASS at Disneyland, then the process is similar, but scanning in is much easier at Disney World. There, you can make your reservations via the My Disney Experience app (or online or at a kiosk). But instead of scanning your ticket or app code at the FastPass+ return line, you scan a rubber bracelet on your wrist. MagicBands are not necessary (you can scan a park ticket instead), but they do make life much easier.
MagicBands are so much more than FastPass+ keepers though. The bands are your ticket to enter the park. If you are staying at a Disney property, they can be used as a room key. You can set them up with a credit card to use in place of money in the parks and on the hotel properties. You scan it to collect your on-ride photos or PhotoPass and character photos.
MagicBands can be used to simplify your day and keep you from going into your wallets and pockets. You can purchase them on your own in advance. But if you stay on-site, they come free with your hotel stay (but free MagicBands are going away in 2021). When you enter a park, that MagicBand is tied to you until the battery gives out (about two years, we're told). If you're staying on-site, these bands will come personalized with your name and a color of your choosing. Or, for an additional fee, you can customize your MagicBand with fun specialty themes. You'll see kiosks all around the property (including Disney Springs) for themed MagicBands (my most recent favorite was "A Goofy Movie" MagicBand!).
Keep in mind that the MagicBand use is changing, so keep hopping back for updates. Guests will be able to use the My Disney Experience app to do the things they have been doing with MagicBands. If you want the ease of being hands free, MagicBands will still be an option.
FastPass+ at Disney World
We’ve mentioned that FastPass+ differs from FASTPASS and MaxPass at Disneyland. Hop over to this post to get up to speed and answer your Disney FastPass+ frequently asked questions. Keep in mind that after the parks closed due to COVID-19, Disney World canceled all FastPass+ reservations before the Disney World reopening. The FastPass+ reservation service is temporarily suspended to allow for extra space in queues to manage capacity and maintain physical distancing. Future plans for FastPass+ will be shared later. The following information is what the system is normally like. But for now, this is one less thing to worry about.
Besides optional MagicBands, the biggest difference between Disneyland and Disney World is you must make your FastPass+ reservation well in advance. For real! If you are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, you can make reservations up to 60 days in advance of check-in for your length of stay. Other guests can make reservations 30 days in advance of each day of their trip. It’s free, but you can only make up to three advance FastPass+ reservations (all have to be in the same park) per day via the My Disney Experience website, the Disney World My Disney Experience app or at kiosks in the park.
Another difference between Disneyland and Disney World is that your FastPass+ reservation times cannot overlap at Disney World. You must use the three reservations before you can attempt to collect more. You Disneyland fans may find this a bit limiting if you are used to having choices throughout the day. We often have overlapping times and hold multiple FASTPASSes at a time at Disneyland. But if you do score that Avatar Flight of Passage FastPass+ reservation in advance, you can breathe a sigh of relief. It's nice knowing you are getting on one of the best rides ever that day without the crazy long wait.
You know how when you arrive at Disneyland in the morning there are usually many FASTPASSes available? Well … that may not be the case at Disney World. You want to get some advance reservations because the in-park FastPass+ availability is more limited than at Disneyland. On a recent visit to Disney's Animal Kingdom, all that we could find availability for same-day in the park was shows and a character meet and greet. Booking in advance is key!
All of the rides are on the FastPass+ system, which differs from Disneyland. Getting FastPass+ reservations are the key to shorter lines. Likewise, the theme parks (except for Magic Kingdom) have Tier 1 and Tier 2 options when booking FastPass+ reservations. You can only book one Tier 1 ride in advance. Remember, you can’t get another FastPass until your initial three reservations have been used. So choose wisely! Some rides do have Single Rider lines if your party is willing to split up, including Expedition Everest.
How to Choose a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel
Now that you know a little bit about MagicBands and the advantages of staying on Disney World property (early FastPass window, woohoo!), that may help you decide whether to stay on property or elsewhere. Disney World is about a 20-minute ride from Universal Orlando Resort and other Orlando hotels if you decide to stay off property.
Advantages to staying at a Disney World hotel include:
- Extra Magic Hours (Extra Magic Hours are temporarily suspended)
- 60-day advance booking window for Disney FastPass+ reservations (Temporarily suspended)
- Free MagicBands (Through Dec. 31, 2020)
- Free transportation from the airport and around the resort (varies by location)
- Advance Dining Reservations 180 days in advance of your check-in day, for the entire length of your stay for Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests (Temporarily moved to 60 days)
Some deciding factors when choosing a hotel include budget (Psst ... get a hoppin’ deal on a Disney World or Orlando hotels through your favorite froggy friends at Undercover Tourist), types of transportation available or distance from your favorite parks. The type of pool and if there is a waterslide or a cool theme (Princesses? "Cars?" Tropical hideaway?) might also be factors to help you to pick the best Disney World hotel for your family.
Planning Meals with Advance Dining Reservations
As the parks reopen, dining reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance. Here's a look at what the system looks like under normal operation:
At Disneyland, you may have gotten used to making dining reservations last minute and up to 60 days away for those harder-to-get reservations. At Disney World, you need to get those reservations early, especially for character dining experiences such as Cinderella's Royal Table. You can reserve up to 180 days in advance of your visit. Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests do have an advantage because they can book 180 days in advance, plus the entire length of their stay, up to 10 days ahead. All dining reservations can be made using the My Disney Experience app. Check Open Table for additional Disney Springs reservations. If you do miss out on securing a reservation, keep checking back for cancellations as your visit approaches.
Meeting Characters at Disney World
At Disneyland, you might generally know where to find characters. Sometimes characters wander freely or pop up near the park entrance. A princess might be in Fantasyland or the Royal Hall or out by the park entrance. You hop in line to get one-on-one time.
You will not find as many freely wandering characters at Disney World. At Disney World, most characters are a bit more hidden away or in consistent locations with formal lines. Some meet and greets are available on FastPass+; you can locate them on the map, with their associated wait times. Depending on your priorities for the day, using a FastPass+ to meet a character may be worth it.
During the reopening period, there will not be traditional meet and greets. Instead, look for other opportunities to see characters.
Disney World Photos
With all of those magical moments to come, let’s talk about photos. If you want to those PhotoPass on-ride photos and videos — yes, they have videos! — the process and pricing is different from Disneyland’s MaxPass and other photo packages. You can purchase all of the photos for the day for a fee. Expect the Disney World fee to be more than you will pay at Disneyland. During our spring visit to Disney World, the price was $69.00. For longer stays, you can get all your vacation photos from the trip for $199.00 through Memory Maker; if you purchase up to three days in advance of your trip, you can save $30, making your total cost $169.00 for Memory Maker.
To collect photos throughout the day, scan your Magic Band or ticket under your ride photo (that certainly beats typing the attraction number into the app!) or from the PhotoPass photographer when getting a PhotoPass photo.
Are you excited to make your first trip to Disney World? Hopefully you've found our Disneyland fan’s guide to visiting Disney World hopful in planning and making your aware of the differences so you can have a magical trip! Remember that your froggy friends can help you save money with discount Disney World Resort tickets and hotels stays in Orlando and at Disney World.